“But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships
Natalie Haynes has come into her own with her 2019 retelling of the Trojan War called A Thousand Ships. In previous writings, she has focused on the lives of those ignored in Greek mythology and life. A Thousand Ships amplifies this by telling the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective. She has managed to discuss mythology’s greatest war by highlighting the problems of modern day wars. Haynes brings to light the impacts of war on women, children, and families while more traditional retellings instead focus on the bravery of the men in war. Their brutal assaults leave out the impact that war has on society, only focusing on the male heroes and male victims. A Thousand Ships is a blessed divergence from the traditional: instead showing the women’s perspectives, from servants to goddesses and all the women and families in-between.
Calliope, a muse, is singing to a mortal poet man, hoping that he will instead tell the stories of wartime women. She is tired of hearing the stories of the warriors and feels that the women’s stories are equally as important. Through rotating narration, readers are taken from the start of the Trojan War to the sacking of Troy to Penelope finally welcoming Odysseus home after twenty years of his absence. This broader look shifts from Hecuba, Cassandra, Penelope, Calliope, Clytemnestra, Helen, Laodamia, among many others. The title of this book even focuses more on women than men: Helen of Troy is often called ‘the face that launched a thousand ships,’ a phrase coined by Christopher Marlowe in the 17th century. This cast of female characters battles war, politics, and religion as they either survive or come to a bad end.
“A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships
“I would not let a man who knew the value of nothing make me doubt the value of myself.”
― Jennifer Saint, Ariadne
Jennifer Saint grew up reading Greek mythology. This is never more apparent than when you look at the books she has written. Her first book, Ariadne, and her second book, Elektra, tell the stories of Greek heroines. If you like Circe or Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, definitely check these out as Jennifer writes about the stories hidden within the myths.
Ariadne is Jennifer’s debut novel. This tells the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur told from the perspective of Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, both daughters of King Minos. Ariadne grew up as a Princess of Crete, dancing from dawn to dusk on a gorgeous floor made by the prized architect/craftsman Daedalus. She has heard the stories of gods and heroes all her life and witnessed their wrath and desire firsthand. After all, below Crete lurks Ariadne’s family’s shameful secret. For beneath the palace roams Ariadne’s brother, the Minotaur, a beast who demands blood sacrifice every year secured through a deal organized through King Minos as a way to avenge the death of one of his sons. This blood sacrifice demands fourteen humans shipped from Athens around the harvest. The people of Athens have grown to despise Crete and their ruler, none so much as Theseus, Prince of Athens.
One day, Theseus arrives as one of the blood sacrifice. Ariadne quickly falls under his spell and realizes that Theseus has instead come to vanquish the beast and free his people. Deciding to defy the gods and betray her family and country, Ariadne helps Theseus on his dangerous mission to kill the Minotaur. Her decision has far-reaching consequences beyond just herself. Will her betrayal of all she knows lead her to happiness or does Theseus have other plans? After she leaves Crete, what will become of Phaedra, her younger sister? Ariadne’s future changes the second she lays eyes on Theseus, but only the gods truly know one’s destiny no matter what we plan. The author explores these forgotten women of Greek mythology and their desire to make the world a better place.
Do you like reading about ancient gods and goddesses like Aphrodite, Athena, Zeus, etc? I know I do. One thing I found lacking when I was reading about them was that there was never any story about their day-to-day lives. Sure, everyone knows the Athena sprung whole out of her father Zeus’ head after he swallowed her mother to try to keep her from being born, that Aphrodite rose full-formed out of the sea foam, and that Zeus was a philandering God who had many different girlfriends and illegitimate children despite the fact that he was married to Hera, the goddess of weddings and marriage, but what about their everyday lives?? Martin Millar has attempted to tackle this question in his new book, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies.
In The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies, Martin Millar looks at both the daily life of the gods and goddesses, but also at the lives of the people who relied on them to make their lives work. (Admittedly more attention is paid to the citizens than to the gods, but interesting tidbits and stories are thrown in for good measure.) In this fantasy epic, the lives of Athenian citizens are in dire straits as the city is in its 10th year of war with Sparta. In hopes to end the war, a peace conference is being held around the time of the festival of Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility and wine who was also known as a patron of the arts.
Aristophanes is struggling to get the necessary funds to guarantee his play’s success and to make up for the fact that he didn’t win first prize at last year’s festival. His rival playwrights are receiving any and everything they could possibly want, while the politicians and festival sponsors seem to be conspiring to make sure his play fails gigantically. One group in town wants peace, while the other group wants war to continue. Aristophanes’ play about peace will never succeed without money, so he is forced to make some deals with some less-than-reputable people in town. Add in various people praying to the gods and asking for help and soon Athens finds itself the center of attention of some meddlesome gods who are willing to do whatever it takes to get the outcome they desire.
This funny, compelling, and witty adventure into the lives of average Athenian citizens and the gods they turn to for help will have you eagerly turning the page to see what destruction and mayhem could possibly come next.